Today's Headlines and Commentary

Quinta Jurecic
Wednesday, December 21, 2016, 1:15 PM

German police have identified a suspect in Monday’s terror attack in which a truck rammed into a Berlin Christmas market and are conducting a nationwide manhunt for the young Tunisian immigrant, named Anis Amri, The New York Times reports.

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German police have identified a suspect in Monday’s terror attack in which a truck rammed into a Berlin Christmas market and are conducting a nationwide manhunt for the young Tunisian immigrant, named Anis Amri, The New York Times reports. According to Der Spiegel, German authorities had previously investigated the suspect for “suspected ties with [the Islamic State]” and had classified him as a “potential threat” who could initiate an attack at any time. Amri had applied for asylum in Germany and had almost been deported from the country at least one. His identity as an asylum-seeker may increase political pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to roll back her policy of welcoming migrants and refugees into the country following a string of high-profile crimes, not all of them terror attacks, committed by migrants and refugees over the past year.

Russia and Turkey will conduct a joint investigation of the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov, with Russian investigators collaborating with their Turkish counterparts, NPR writes. The AP tells us that the Kremlin has indicated suspicion that the assassin did not act alone, though Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman did not provide any evidence for the President’s doubts.

The attacks in Berlin and Ankara rounded off a violent year across Europe, the Times reports. Though each instance of Monday’s violence was different in scope and style, each underlined what many fear as the beginning of a new era of terrorism and political instability.

Despite the assassination, Russia and Turkey went forward with plans to convene with Iran in talks on political solution for the crisis in Syria. Notably, neither the United States nor the United Nations was invited or took part—an omission that underlines the increased leverage gained by the Syrian regime in recent months, and indicates that Syria’s civil war is likely to end with President Bashar al-Assad still in power.

The last wave of evacuations is underway in Aleppo as government forces aim to secure what is left of the rebel-held territory and regain complete control over the city, the AP writes. 3,000 more civilians and rebel fighters will be evacuated from the city. Though the United Nations announced plans to monitor the evacuation proceedings, it is unclear whether monitors will arrive before the evacuation is complete.

After a bombing that killed five Iranian Kurdish fighters and an Iraqi Kurdish policeman in northern Iraq on Tuesday, the Iranian Kurdish group has accused the Iranian government of orchestrating the attack. Reuters has more.

The U.S. Treasury Department has officially sanctioned a Russian restaurateur with ties to Putin for his support for ongoing Russian efforts in Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal writes. Along with Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has also been accused of funding online “troll farms” that post pro-Putin comments online, the United States also announced new sanctions on other Russians connected to a bank tied to Putin and entities doing business in Crimea.

The Times examines Exxon Mobil CEO and possible future Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Russia over the years. Though Tillerson voiced concern over the Russian government’s lack of “respect for the rule of law” in 2008, he set aside those doubts as he moved closer to the Kremlin’s inner circle and focused on building personal relationships with Putin and the head of Russia’s state oil company in order to move forward with projects for Exxon.

Foreign Policy has obtained a copy of “defense priorities” outlined by the Trump transition team, which lists the new administration’s top priorities as defeating ISIS, “build[ing] a strong defense,” “develop[ing] a comprehensive USG cyber strategy” and “find[ing] greater efficiencies,” in that order. Notably, the memo notes briefings on China and North Korea, but does not mention Russia.

Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, right-wing bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, has routinely raised funds for a large West Bank settlement, the Journal reports. Friedman’s activities have raised further concerns over the potential for his appointment to ratchet up tensions in the region, given his support for the potentially explosive move of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Republican members of Congress who might otherwise be inclined to oppose Donald Trump are hesitant to do so because of the threat of retaliation from Trump supporters, Politico reports. After mildly criticizing Trump at Washington conference, Representative Bill Flores (R-TX) was targeted with a wave of of harassment, including threats to his safety.

President Obama announced a ban on drilling along swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic under an expansive interpretation of unilateral executive authority under existing environmental regulations. The fate of the ban, which aims to protect the President’s environmental legacy from an incoming administration that has done little to assuage concerns over its approach to climate change, will likely be fought out in federal courts. The Times has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stewart Baker posted the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, the “Vlad’s Botox” edition.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker with news on the assassination in Turkey, Trump’s controversial appointment for ambassador to Israel, and more news from Kuwait and Libya.

Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic noted a motion to preserve the SSCI torture report filed in Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s Guantanamo habeas case before the D.C. Circuit.

Ashley Deeks flagged her new paper on the Obama administration’s minimalist approach to international law.

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Quinta Jurecic is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior editor at Lawfare. She previously served as Lawfare's managing editor and as an editorial writer for the Washington Post.

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